The week of October 14-21, 2012, will hopefully be looked back on as a big turning point for the Cleveland Browns. Most people will point it to as the week that Jimmy Haslem official took over as the owner of the Browns, and hopefully that it will turn out to be a good thing. He has said all the right things so far, especially how he was going to hire and or keep good people and support them to do their jobs. He has said over and over again he is going to let football people make the football decisions. Lets hope that is the policy.
However, there were other things that happened that week that are just as important to the Browns franchise. First and foremost, the Browns got their first win of the season with a decisive 34-24 win over the Bengals, a divisional foe who also made the playoffs last year. Brandon Weedon had another solid game at quarterback, going 17 for 29 for 231 yards and two touchdowns. His only interception was on a tipped ball. Montario Hardesty filled in for a banged up Trent Richardson and finally showed his stuff; Joe Haden had an interception in his return from his suspension; Sheldon Brown had a pick six; Josh Cribbs showed that he still is Josh Cribbs; and Josh Gordon had his third TD reception in two games, a 71 yard beauty. The Browns took the field with twenty-six first and second year players and everything finally came together.
The very young Browns had solid performances by several rookies besides Weedon and Gordon, including defensive tackles John Hughes and Billy Winn, and offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
In the victory over the Bengals the Browns showed they are still a young team of talented players who are getting better each week. I had a conversation with a former NFL coach about the Browns and he made a good point, “Most first and second year players are still just happy to be getting paid for playing football. But soon the light bulb goes off for most of them and they realize they have to perform and win to keep their jobs. That is what the Browns are going through right now.” Let’s hope all of the light bulbs are on soon.
After seven games it looks like another solid draft for the Browns. Take away the first game and Brandon Weedon is playing very good for a rookie at quarterback. Trent Richardson is leading the team in rushing; Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin have both contributed as receivers; Mitchell Schwarz has started at left tackle from day one; and L.J. Fort, Billy Winn, John Hughes have played major roles on defense.
But let’s also look at the other three teams in the AFC North and what happened to them this same week the Browns beat the Bengals. First, we already know that the Bengals lost to the Browns. And, you could make the case, if the Bengals had not caught the Browns early during week two of the season the Browns could have swept the Bengals. Just something to think about.
The Steelers lost a close one to the Titans 26-23, the type of game they would have one in the recent past. But Troy Polamalo was out again with a calf injury, up to that point he has played in only two games. Since they have clammed down on leading with the helmet tackles, James Harrison isn’t himself anymore. Hines Ward is in the broadcast booth and no one has raised his game to replace him. They have also had injuries to other key players, especially on the offensive line, with center Maurkice Pouncey and right tackle Marcus Gilbert out for multiple games. The Steelers will always be dangerous as long as Ben Roethlisberger is around, but they are definitely showing their age.
The week the Browns beat the Bengals the Ravens beat the Cowboys 31-29, but might have lost the war, losing several starters on defense, including corner back Lardarius Webb with a season ending knee injury and linebacker Ray Lewis with a probable season (and maybe career) ending tricep injury. Although Joe Flacco has grown into a very good QB, the Ravens defense has aged and their window might be closing quickly.
The week after the Browns beat the Bengals they lost a very winnable game to the Colts; the Ravens got pasted by Houston 43-13; and the Steelers squeaked by the Bengals 24-17. The AFC North is in a cycle of change, let us hope the youngest team in the division takes advantage soon of the opportunities awaiting them. When are the Browns going to start winning games against teams like the Colts?
Sooner or later the Browns have to start controlling their own destiny. I don’t mean I expect them to win nine in a row and make the playoffs this year, but to start winning games they should win, and win some of those games they shouldn’t. As I write this article they are off to a disappointing 1-6 start, with still a fair amount of winnable games to go. Hopefully the Bengals win will be the first of several winnable home games that go their way. There are still three games left against the Steelers and Ravens, with two of them at home. Going 0-3 in those three games should be considered unacceptable.
One last comment…I usually don’t get to a game until our season at John Carroll, where I am an offensive and special teams assistant, is over with. However, I was able to sneak off to the Bengals game and enjoyed every minute of it. It was a beautiful autumn day, I hit a tailgate party or two beforehand, and ran into more than a few old friends over the course of the afternoon. The beauty of the day and the enthusiasm of the fans reminded me of more than a few glory days of the past.
I think we all see the potential of the current Browns. A new, enthusiastic owner; high draft picks actually playing like high draft picks; the never-ending support of the best fans in football. It is now up to the team itself to get some quality wins on the board for this season, and to show us that very soon this they are going to compete for a playoff spot.